Liz James Takes On The TransLink Referendum

The fiery independent columnist Liz James is one of the few scribes that is willing to take on the TransLink behemoth with other than the political correctness that follows the issue. David Cockle, mentioned in Ms. James piece, is the very same David Cockle who did the famous Leewood/Rail for the Valley Study…..

….. and a transit study done by Mr. Cockle for Burnaby, Richmond, Vancouver or Surrey would be most welcome.

The region needs very desperately and independent view on transit, as present planning relies too heavily on the SkyTrain light metro model, which has proven to be obsolete for the more cash constrained 21st century. Essentially, the regional taxpayer has been paying about three times more for SkyTrain and the Canada line, with no advantage in operation.

One hopes Mayor Walton will see beyond the fog of “rapid transit” and look at other transit alternatives without interference from the SkyTrain Lobby.

The transit consumer and regional taxpayer deserves no less.

Stumbling towards a transit referendum

Elizabeth James / North Shore News
February 5, 2014

“Somebody has to have the guts to go to the public and talk about all the various sources of (TransLink) funding and do all of the groundwork.” North Shore News Jan. 26, 2014 – North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton (from a Jan. 26 news story)

Speaking at a recent Chamber of Commerce lunch, District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton expressed his frustration with the confusion over the proposed TransLink referendum.

Walton, who continues as mayors’ council chair for 2014, echoed the council’s opinion that the province owns the referendum and is responsible for wording the question and for educating the public as to possible funding options.

The same day, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone told reporters the mayors have each “put numerous ideas out there” about the transportation priorities for “their respective communities” without saying how the projects can be funded.

Mayors promoting the needs of their communities? Isn’t that what they were elected to do? People are often accused of demanding services they’re not willing to pay for – the accusation grates every time I hear it. People are not against paying for improved and efficient services; they are sick of pouring their dollars down black holes of provincially driven political decisions that fail to deliver anything close to a region-wide transportation system.

The mayors are overdue to dig in their heels. Indeed many believe they should dump TransLink in the lap of the current premier who has done nothing to rectify the mess she inherited from a succession of previous governments dating back to the Glen Clark era.

Instead, mere hours after Stone’s comments, she pulled the rug out from under him by backing away from the government’s “committed” position that the referendum would be held alongside November’s municipal elections.

That’s reminiscent of a long-ago remark by former CKNW talk-show host Rafe Mair who said, “People are mistaken if they think anyone in power knows what the hell they are doing.”

Now, under the guise of giving people a voice, the province plans to offload its responsibility by forcing you, the voters, to decide how you want your ox gored for who knows what “priorities” they want to ram through.

Recently, I received two documents pertinent to this discussion. One came from longtime North Van District council-watcher, Corrie Kost; the other was a transit presentation made to authorities in Dundee, Scotland.

Too lengthy to analyze here, they add a wider dimension to the transportation investments you are being asked to make.

Kost referred me to a 2012 referendum held in Atlanta, Ga. where area residents were asked to approve a Transportation Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax.

In brief, the referendum failed by a vote of 417,593 to 257,942, despite the fact that proponents spent US$6.5 million to the US$14,000 “and shoe leather” spent by opponents.

If you search for “A well-tied knot: Atlanta’s Mobility Crisis,” authored by Edward A. Hatfield of Emory University, you can read the longer story online. Although Hatfield says Atlanta’s transportation issues were complicated by disturbing racial overtones, some of his comments sound eerily familiar: “… it wasn’t altogether clear that area leaders could even agree on a slate of projects, much less persuade voters to foot the bill.”

And, “… some ninety one percent of the voters opposing the referendum were motivated by a profound lack of faith in government…” To be fair, Hatfield said 49 of 62 initiatives put forward by the U.S. nonpartisan Center for Transportation Excellence did succeed.

Another issue Hatfield touched on was that of development: “The project list as a whole was not paired with thoroughgoing changes in land-use regulations.”

You be the judge as to whether our “regional transportation (is) still chasing development rather than shaping it.”

The second report was a presentation by Jim Harkins, FC ILT and David Cockle of Leewood Projects Ltd. on the Dundee Waterfront Circular Tram. Both members of the U.K.’s LRTA Light Rail Development Group, they do lean toward light rail. Nonetheless, their presentation models the co-ordinated information so desperately needed in this region. Affordability, connectivity, university needs, reduction of car use, pedestrian walkways and much more was covered.

Cockle regularly visits family in Chilliwack and so I asked him about the dynamics of producing such a report for Metro Vancouver. He said circulators could, indeed, feed into the current transit network. Routes to consider: Waterfront-Gastown-Robson; Waterfront-Robson-West End; Robson-West End-Yaletown; Burnaby, Richmond.

Cockle also said that if commissioned, separate reports by Harkins et al for the North Shore and for the Broadway corridor to UBC route would take from four to six weeks to complete.

I hope to discuss the specifics with Mayor Walton and tell you more in an upcoming column.

The cost of those expert independent reports would likely pale in comparison to the costs of a stumbling referendum which would guarantee little but more TransLink grief.

All that’s needed is someone with “the guts” to commission them.

Ai?? North Shore News

- See more at:

“Somebody has to have the guts to go to the public and talk about all the various sources of (TransLink) funding and do all of the groundwork.” North Shore News Jan. 26, 2014 – North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton (from a Jan. 26 news story) – See more at:
“Somebody has to have the guts to go to the public and talk about all the various sources of (TransLink) funding and do all of the groundwork.” North Shore News Jan. 26, 2014 – North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton (from a Jan. 26 news story) – See more at:

Stumbling towards a transit referendum

Elizabeth James / North Shore News
February 5, 2014

- See more at:


5 Responses to “Liz James Takes On The TransLink Referendum”
  1. eric chris says:

    Great article by Elizabeth. Fantastic.

    First, yes, it’s true, people are not against transit, they are against being swindled for massively expensive sky train projects – by hypocritical individuals (politicians, engineers and others, namely the CEO of TransLink) who don’t use transit but expect drivers to pay for sky train which drivers can’t or won’t use. Many residents here pay about $1,000 annually in taxes to TransLink (parking, hydro, gas… property) and in Edmonton, property owners who are drivers only pay about $200 annually, all from property taxes.

    TransLink is grossly over funded at present. How can we go on raising taxes to fund TransLink which is a broken and corrupt organization which spent $112 million on its overhead for staff doing no useful work?

    Moreover, this isn’t the 1970s when cars only got two to three times the fuel mileage of the diesel bus and when sky train was conceived to improve air quality. It is 40 years later when cars get 30 times to 100 times the fuel mileage of the diesel bus carrying fewer than 10 people per kilometer traveled – on average for the entire day. Transit presently pollutes far more than cars even if you factor in the sky train which must have 80% of its capacity matched by buses to transport transit users to its distantly spaced stations. Sky train was and is a total blunder.

    To make things even worse, transit by TransLink does not reduce road congestion. Transit by TransLink increases road congestion and we had less road congestion when we didn’t have sky train and spent the requisite engineering effort to debottleneck roads. Now, the engineers in Vancouver just throw their hands up and leave it up to TransLink to solve their road congestion problems. They even build bike lanes to take away road space to make road conditions worse. They don’t do any traffic engineering anymore to reduce road congestion – they tell you that the subway to UBC will solve road congestion. Forget it, it won’t. Find some better engineers who are willing to do an honest day’s work.

    OK, this is getting a little long winded – the extension of the Millennium Line to Coquitlam (Evergreen Line) can’t possibly reduce road congestion because the capacity of the Millennium Line does not increase by making it longer. Only another parallel line to Vancouver will increase transit capacity. For example, if you extend your garden hose by 10 metres, the amount of water flowing through it does not go up and goes down slightly due to greater friction losses. Same thing for the Millennium Line, when the Evergreen Line is connected, more people will take longer to board and alight, capacity will drop.

    So, TransLink spend $1.4 billion on the Evergreen Line to do nothing to reduce road congestion and is going to reduce transit capacity. Awesome.

    Second, circular (transit loops) are a great way to move people from Point A to Point B if the path is unimportant. Transit loops cut down the cost of transit. That is, single tracks for the transit loops can be used rather than double tracks for sky train traveling a mostly linear route. Of course, to intuitively understand this quantitatively, requires a lot of advanced calculus and a good understanding of transit operations. TransLink CEO, Ian Jarvis, never had to apply Green’s theorem for his accounting degree and he has no clue about transit operations to have an appreciation of how the transit loops can save loads of money and improve transit:

    Too bad. Maybe the discussion is more about finding smarter people who can run transit for less money than about raising taxes to fund a bunch of glorified monkeys spending too much money on transit.

  2. Haveacow says:

    Sorry Eric, have to take a kick at your last statement. Circular transit routes are not great in fact they are now greatly discouraged. The reason is that an entire circular route generally is only used by a small percentage of its passengers, its true sections of that route can be very heavily traveled but it is rare when the whole is used heavily. London recently cut up its famous circle tube line. Also in London, the new S-Bahn like EMU operation with its 4 lines form a circular route but it is made up of sections of the different lines, this way if they need to a circulation route around its possible but only if the traffic shows a need for it.

    The Portland Streetcar does have a circular route but it is a very large circle that will use the new south Portland Streetcar/Light Rail bridge being built as part of the Orange Line to south Portland and Milwaukee (not sure of the spelling, its a southern community in Portland) and is only circular to make it easier for the operation to bring cars back to the barns. Yes people can use it but its not being used for them. Now, Portland’s Streetcar car does have a smaller existing loop that acts as a circulation but as with most it is only used by a minority of riders. Keep in mind that, Portland’s Streetcar does not have exclusive use of it’s right of way, it shares large parts of its route with cars, unlike the LRT system which is completely segregated from traffic.Shows

    Circulator operations are really only effective when the line totally encompasses a specific area that is thoroughly and evenly spread in its passenger traffic. The steam engine line around Disney World comes to mind because the traffic at each stop is relatively similar. Whereas the Monorail system which connects the various parks in the Florida Disney Empire which also has multiple circular routes but does not have even passenger traffic numbers at each stop and is often however very quietly, criticized by its owners as not being “efficiently used” by it’s operations staff.

  3. Haveacow says:

    Ultimately this is the real problem there is no clear path showing what goes where. The main issue is that you have created an agency that has multiple jobs. Is it a transit Provider? Well yes. Does it build and maintain major bridges and their road infrastructure Links? Yes it does. Does it pay for all the regions bridges? No. There also doesn’t appear to be a good rationale why a transit provider is or should be doing this at all. This produces confusion even for people like me who should be able to tell the average person why it is. When a road project joining 2 different BC communities requires a new regional bridge is there a standard formula whom pays for what? I seriously doubt it and there goes the first problem, a negotiation begins and I bet its a complex agreement that doesn’t translate well to the public, next problem. It never becomes standardized and each project becomes a negotiation.

    Then someone at the agency thinks hey, lets apply this procedure to our transit operations as well and try and save money. The province agrees because saving money is always good and looks even better in the media, and the Canada Line becomes a P3(no matter what anyone says they rarely work out for the public) that is negotiated to death or to the point that it will never fully do what it was originally supposed to do. The rapid transit operations then begin to build on their existing system and no matter what they do they cannot get the public fully behind what they want to do because they cannot be open about their legal negotiation regarding their last rail project (sorry guys legal technicality, you will never know fully about that line because its negotiations are constitutionally protected and private, that’s the problem when you use private companies in large public projects). So only the part of the public who fully benefited from the existing projects or don’t care are really behind the next project. Many concerned people offer advice but now they are fixed into an entrenched position and cannot extricate themselves out of their own frameworks and internal processes. So for the moment LRT/Tram-train operations are not even considered.

    Are they over funded? I seriously doubt it considering what they are tasked to do. But why is a transit provider building road based infrastructures at all? I have no doubt that their tax bills are astounding but, their not just doing transit and they are not very open about what funds go to each divsion of their operations. I can only imagine the screaming if O.C. TRANSPO was put in charge of planning, building as well as the maintenance of the inter-provincial and other major road bridges here in the national capital region. They have enough troubles getting people to understand why we have a larger amount per tax bill paying for transit then Toronto does (on per tax bill basis) and the TTC has a subway system.

    Instead of worrying about a referendum on new taxes for transit how about a clear breakdown of where there operating funds go inside their agency. How much they are really paying for the agreement around the Canada Line each Year? Then a fair comparison with other transit agencies in Canada. How about a measure of real system usage on a per passenger/ per hour of actual service / per vehicle basis. This type of thing does exist CUTA(Canadian Urban Transit Association) collects it for agencies. The sucky thing is, you have to pay for it and be a fully paid up transit professional member of CUTA itself to get access to it. Its astounding to me sometimes how secretive our public transit agencies are in Canada about data, not just Translink, they all have a similar thread of operational secrecy running through them. No joke, the naval operations centre for NATO in Norfolk Virginia and the operational sub centres in Halifax and Portugal are more open and inviting to the public and press then the TTC Headquarters in Toronto is. NATO will at the least offer you something to drink and eat while they do security checks on you. The operations centre in Halifax has free public Wifi for gods sake, heavily monitored no doubt but, free and fully accessible wifi. Why worry about the lack of details regarding operational transit decisions when O. C. Transpo will not tell you how many people ride each bus route per day unless you have a freedom of information act request form already filled out (again no joke).

  4. zweisystem says:

    Zwei has been told by special transit specialists that circular transit routes tend not to work. That being said, using Broadway and 4th Avenue trolleybus lines, providing that they both service UBC and Broadway SkyTrain station, is I believe, a different proposition with two routes are no more than 460 metres apart. I have always though 4th Ave, could take more of Broadway’s transit ridership if it were designed to do so.

    For our out of town viewers, Vancouver’s trolleybus routes largely follow the ghost rails of former streetcar lines, with many routes virtually unchanged in over 60 years.

  5. eric chris says:

    Yes, first, for the loop network to work well, it has to integrate effectively into the existing transit network to transport transit users in the clockwise and counter-clockwise directions. Next week, I’ll be making a post on two countercurrent loops connecting UBC to downtown Vancouver, Canada Line, Millennium Line and Expo Line – looking forward to what you think about the scheme.

    Second, for TL to have any responsibility for roads and bridges is a total conflict of interest with its transit operations. Really, the staff at TL don’t even get involved in transit operations and merely follow the provincial government’s policy to expand sky train. You don’t require 500 staff at TL to do one thing – follow policy to hire SNC Lavalin whenever another sky train line is ready to be built. You don’t need anyone at TL and the provincial government can do it itself.

    Transit has no purpose and purports to be doing “planning” in Metro Vancouver. What everyone does at TL, nobody knows. I asked TL to let me shadow one of its executives (Brian Mills, hot shot) to see all the important work that he does – never got a reply from TL.

    You can take the lot them at TL and throw them in the garbage bin. They aren’t worth a crap and do nothing of any value, day after day. Bus drivers and supervisors run TL and not the idiots collecting their crazy paychecks for showing up at work to drink coffee and attend meetings all day at their new swank TL headquarters, paid for with money that could be better used to run transit.

    Finally, yes absolutely TL is over funded, badly. Spending on roads is a red herring – irrelevant. In 2013, TL spent $111 million on roads, likely to facilitate sky train lines – refer to page 14 and download the file before TL reads this comment and deletes the report from its web-site:

    There is no way that TL is even close to being “under” funded, no way. Forget it. TL spent about $1,400 million on transit is 2013. Edmonton spent $310 million in 2013, see page 314:

    Edmonton has one-half the population of Metro Vancouver and almost the same population density. So, TL should be costing us no more than $620 million here and TL spent about $780 million too much in 2013 from the looks of it to me ($1,400 million – $620 million).

    It is a rough comparison but Edmonton has severe winter weather and if anything the cost based on population and population density is conservative. That is, the population density of Metro Edmonton is less than Metro Vancouver’s and transit costs more to operate. Metro Edmonton is more spread out than Metro Vancouver (for transit) and has severe winter costs (snow tires) that Metro Vancouver does not – refer to the 2012 TL efficiency review for the population densities – Table 4-1, page 19:

    Transit is too expensive here by a factor of 10. Really, the RCMP need to open a file on the crooks at TL if the RCMP haven’t already. Something is seriously wrong with transit costs here.